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Victim Services in Rural Law Enforcement
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Site Summaries

NSA Sites

Maine: Aroostook and Washington County Sheriff's Offices and the Maine State Police

Aroostook County is Maine's northernmost county, covering 6,453 square miles with an average of 11 persons per square mile. The estimated population of 73,008 (2006) is predominately Franco-American and 96 percent White. The median household income is $32,629, and 15 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 14 percent have a college degree. The county is home to the Maliseet and Micmac Bands, who do not live on reservations.

Washington County, Maine, is the easternmost county in the United States, covering 2,528 square miles with an average of 13 persons per square mile. The estimated population of 33,288 (2006) is 94 percent White and 5 percent Native American. The Passamaquoddy Tribe lives here on two reservations. The median household income is $29,087, and 17 percent of residents live in poverty. Of residents 25 years of age and over, 15 percent have a college degree.

In both counties, seasonal work is a major source of industry. Both have poverty and crime rates that are higher than state and national averages. Both have economies that were negatively affected by the closing of military bases in the 1990s. Both share borders with Canada. Aroostook and Washington County Sheriff's Offices and the Maine State Police share responsibility for providing law enforcement services in the two counties. They have a call-share agreement in which the closest officer is dispatched to a call, allowing each agency to maximize limited personnel resources. Each county has 1.1 officers per 1,000 residents and the state police average 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents.

For the OVC grant, the Maine State Police, the Rapid Response Trauma Network (RRTN), and the Aroostook and Washington County Sheriff's Offices collaborated to form Project Connection. The project sought to streamline the victim services referral process for officers responding to a crime scene. Prior to the grant, RRTN worked with the State Police Criminal Investigation Division III to provide services to children exposed to violence and trauma in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Aroostook, Washington, and Hancock Counties. The grant allowed the state police to contract with RRTN to expand its services to include all crime victims in Aroostook and Washington Counties.

Project Connection partners signed a memorandum of understanding and met monthly to implement the program. RRTN hired a coordinator to facilitate and manage the program. The coordinator surveyed crime victims and law enforcement officers to gain feedback on current response to victims and unmet needs. She established offices in each county to allow her to interact and build relationships with officers from the three law enforcement agencies. The coordinator also recruited and trained a small number of volunteers to maximize the project's capacity to assist victims.

By using Project Connection as a referral source, officers at any of the three agencies could make one telephone call connecting victims to additional services. The referral protocol for officers was as follows:

  • During initial law enforcement response, officers offered victims written information about the project.
  • Officers left a message on the project's toll free phone line—each county had its own line—including victim contact data, a summary of the crime, and the officer's callback number.
  • The coordinator checked lines twice a day and assigned cases to volunteers for followup contact or, when appropriate, handled the calls directly. As needed, the coordinator met face-to-face with victims.
  • Before leaving the crime scene, officers provided each victim with a packet containing a letter explaining Project Connection and information on available services. To obtain victim feedback on services, the packet also included a stamped, anonymous satisfaction survey card that victims could complete and return to the program. The project struggled to get victim feedback despite use of these cards.

To implement the protocol, partners created a work group consisting of patrol officers and supervisors from each law enforcement agency. The group met monthly, and then quarterly, to provide oversight and feedback. A workshop was presented to officers and RRTN staff on the one-call approach. The coordinator did community outreach to explain the new procedures to social service agencies and the public and to encourage project utilization.

To encourage officers to follow the protocol, the coordinator communicated with them individually through phone calls, e-mails, and meetings; provided them with promotional materials; and accompanied them on patrol. Agency command staff made it clear they supported the project and instructed their officers on its use. For example, Washington County's protocol directed its deputies to e-mail computer aided dispatch sheets to the coordinator every 2 days. She reviewed them to make sure she was following up with victims in each case and contacted the responding deputy as needed to discuss cases. When the rate of victim referrals to Project Connection from deputies started to drop, refresher training was provided to all officers.

Over the grant period, 184 victims were referred to the project. In many cases, project staff provided support and assistance beyond the initial referral. Project Connection also helped identify and fill gaps in local services. For example, when the project learned that elder victims and those victims whose cases were not prosecuted were not applying for victim compensation, it began assisting victims in completing these applications.

The longstanding collaboration among the law enforcement agencies allowed Project Connection to withstand the retirement of the Washington County sheriff and two key state police lieutenants and gain the full support of the newly elected sheriff and lieutenants. The new sheriff even provided RRTN with office space, conference facilities, and technical support (the project office was originally housed with Catholic Charities). This new location offered greater access to deputies and the operations of the sheriff's office.

The state police agency has continued project services in Aroostook and Washington Counties through private foundation funding and in-kind support.